Why Defending Indigenous Rights Is Integral To Fighting Climate Change

Historic Protecting Mother Earth Conference brings together hundreds of Indigenous Peoples from around the world to assert Indigenous rights as a climate change solution.


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Nisqually Tribal Council Member Hanford McCloud Opens lights sacred fire to open up 17th Protecting Mother Earth conference

© Rudi Tcruz

For years, environmental groups have focused solely on threats to wildlife like polar bears while ignoring the immediate and alarming threats that environmental pollution and climate change pose to communities of color and politically marginalized communities. It’s these communities that are hardest hit by the climate crisis –– even though they are the least responsible for causing it. It’s also, by design, these communities that are most imperiled by environmentally devastating extractive industries like coal mining, tar sands, fracked gas, and more. Let’s be clear. Climate change isn’t just a scientific issue. It’s an issue of racial inequity, economic inequity, and cultural genocide.

Indigenous Peoples around the world are quickly becoming the generation that can no longer swim in their waters. No longer fish in their rivers. No longer hunt their traditional foods. No longer pick their traditional medicines. The climate isn’t just changing the landscape. It’s hurting the culture, sovereignty, health, economies, and lifeways of Indigenous peoples around the world. Yet, despite the immense impacts climate change and fossil fuel industries have on Indigenous cultures and ways of life, Indigenous communities are tremendously resilient.

This was strikingly clear at the 17th Protecting Mother Earth conference, where Tribal leadership and environmental activists called for a unified front to help find solutions. Hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Indigenous Climate Action, the conference provided a space for hundreds to come together to share lessons, celebrate victories, and build stronger alliances to defend and protect land, water, the climate, and Indigenous Rights.

© Rudi Tcruz“We Native people will always be here, standing up to protect the land and water,” said Nisqually Tribal Councilman Hanford McCloud during the conference’s opening ceremony. “We will always be the voice of those on the frontlines who continue to fight against the violation of Indigenous treaty rights, self-determination, environmental justice, and climate change.”

It’s essential to note that Indigenous vulnerability and resilience to climate change cannot be detached from the context of colonialism, which created both the economic conditions for climate change and the social conditions that continue to limit the capacity for Indigenous resistance and resilience. Both historically and in the present, climate change itself is thoroughly tied to colonial practices. Greenhouse gas production over the last two centuries hinged on the dispossession of Indigenous lands and resources.

Since the fracking industry began on Casey Camp-Horinek’s reservation in Ponca, Oklahoma, tribal members have experienced a spike in cancer and autoimmune diseases. She says that post fracking, her small community averages a death per week. The water wells on her reservation are now too toxic to drink. “They need to understand that what they call resources, we call life sources. We all know that water is life. The years of fish kills related to the fracking and injection wells amount to environmental genocide.”

Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation), Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action, expressed during a press conference that the U.S. and Canada, by further investing in dirty energy projects that infringe on Indigenous rights of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, and TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, to name a few) are making decisions and policies that move us further away from a climate-stable future. “They aren’t adhering to international climate commitments,” said Deranger. “This is an indication that we the people, Indigenous Peoples, must be prepared to take real action on climate change and be the leaders for the protection of Mother Earth.”

© Ayse GürsözThe conference was held in an especially pertinent and significant location: Frank’s Landing, named after the late Billy Frank Jr., who led the historical stronghold where the Nisqually Tribe and its peoples stood up in non-violent direct action during the 1960s and ‘70s to defend their way of life and their inherent treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather. The Fish Wars stand today as one of the most important civil rights moments for Indigenous rights in the Pacific Northwest. “We watched our elders get beat up right here. Hauled off,” said Don McCloud Jr., father of Hanford, and the oldest son of Don McCloud Sr., a central leader of the Fish Wars. “We suffered many things. But we’re not here to complain. The struggle still goes on. The battle is still here. We might have won one fight, but we’re here continuing the fight for Mother Earth.”

The event, which ran June 28 – July 1, included plenary sessions with key speakers and break-out sessions addressing themes ranging from Just Transition, Climate Justice, Environmental Health, Rights of Mother Earth, and more. One particular session, which featured a delegation from Alaska, demonstrated just how dramatic an impact climate change is having on the landscape and traditional lifeways.

“The cost of development is the land. And that right there is so profound to me, because no amount of oil money can pay to relocate our villages or subsidize any kind of living in the way that we have done since time immemorial, it can’t compensate for that,” said Adrienne Blatchford (Inupiaq) of Unalakleet, Alaska. “Indigenous people are connected to the food and to the land. Without it we get sick. It’s genetic. It’s something we have to have to provide for ourselves through the land. There is a spiritual connection that we have to these animals and what it provides.”

© Ayse GursozAccording to Adrienne and her team at Native Movement, climate change is drastically changing the landscape, which translates to major disruptions of deeply rooted cultural traditions. There are less and less moose, beavers and salmon, which are traditional sources of food. In the fall and winter, due to starvation, wolves began to attack dogs and people. The rapidly melting permafrost is causing trees to fall down, and less trees mean less shade, which causes more melting. Even flowers that are supposed to be pink and blue are now turning up white. Adrienne’s colleague Misty Nickoli (Denaá and Tsimshian) adds that “those details are important because it’s everything. From our land to animals to our weather to our water. When all those things are upset, the people, our health, gets out of balance and we get sick too. And when we don’t have our food to take in as our medicine, we stay sick and we get sicker.”

Indigenous communities around the world have struggled to maintain their cultural identity and cultural practices through initial and ongoing periods of colonialism, genocide, and forced assimilation. A USDA report, Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: A Synthesis of Current Impacts and Experiences, notes that “this history has provided many indigenous communities with valuable adaptation experience to inform climate-change adaptation, resilience, and resistance.”

© Ayse GursozOnce such instance is the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which first formed in 2001 to address issues of water depletion, natural resource exploitation, and public health within Navajo and Hopi communities. “Our emphasis is on healing and decolonization –– as individuals, communities and as our culture,” said Jihan Gearon (Dine), Executive Director of Black Mesa Water Coalition, during a plenary presentation. “How can we transition our economy to reflect those things? We have a term “Just Transition.” We know the situation we’re in right now is bad, and we know where we want to go. Culture revitalization. Healthy communities, lands and water. Just Transition means how do we get from A to B.”

Even the seemingly groundbreaking Paris Agreement, does not include human rights in its text, nor does it acknowledge Indigenous Rights even though lands and waters stewarded by Indigenous communities make up 80% of the world’s biodiversity. What we need is for climate policy and the overall climate movement to address problems of inequality, because climate change is just as much a social issue as it is an environmental issue.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to live in. And who is going to lead us into that world? Sadly, we can not count on this current administration. We also can’t look to so-called climate heroes such as California’s Governor Jerry Brown, who’s climate policy leans on the market-based carbon trading systems widely criticized as false solutions that further exploit Indigenous lands and Peoples.

© Ayse GursozFrom Standing Rock to the pipeline fights happening across the U.S. and Canada, Indigenous Peoples are leading the resistance to extreme fossil fuels. We all need to stand with them and call for grassroots solutions that center Indigenous traditional knowledge. Our next opportunity to do this is in September during the Global Climate Action Summit where grassroots groups from across the nation and world will host a week of action to counter the false solutions being celebrated there.

This article is part of a content partnership between Alternet, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. RAN supported travel of Indigenous representatives to attend the Protecting Mother Earth Conference as a part of Community Action Grants.

Jade Begay (Diné and Tesuque Pueblo) is a multimedia artist working with the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) as the Communications and Digital Director and the Senior Producer at Indigenous Rising Media, a media project of IEN. Prior to IEN, Jade worked with 350.org as the Multimedia Producer and with Resource Media, as the Justice and Sustainability Communications Fellow. Jade is a graduate of Naropa University (MA Environmental Leadership) and Columbia College Chicago (BA Film and Video). Currently, Jade is co-directing “Blood Memory Experience” a VR/AR project, which explores the connections between identity, land, and storytelling.

Ayşe Gürsöz is a multimedia producer working at the intersection of climate change, human rights, and corporate accountability. Ayşe is the Communications Manager for Rainforest Action Network’s Climate and Energy team and volunteers with Indigenous Rising Media, a media project of the Indigenous Environmental Network. In the past, Ayşe has worked with Al Jazeera’s AJ+ as a News Producer and Public Advocates as a digital strategist. Ayşe is a 2017 Media Consortium fellow of the New Economies Reporting Project and her photography has been featured in ColorLines, the Amplifier Foundation’s “We The People” campaign, and the film “Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock.”

This article was republished from Rainforest Action Network.

See also:
I Inherited My Grandfather’s Trauma—And His Healing Culture
Core Values Of The Indigenous Way Of Life

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September 22, 2019

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September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
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Sponsor: Medicine My Way
Telephone: 508-523-7132
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In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
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Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
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Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
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Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
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Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

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VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
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Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
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2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
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Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

Where:
Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
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Sponsor: Reflexology Association of NH
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September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

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Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
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Telephone: 866-264-5139
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September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

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Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
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Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
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Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

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Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
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Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
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Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

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First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
Contact Name: Craig Hall
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Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

Where:
Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
Contact Name: Maryellen Labelle / David Sholemson
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Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
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Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
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This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
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Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
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Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
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Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
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With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
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Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
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Westborough, MA  01581
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Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
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September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
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Telephone: 617-366-6042
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September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

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Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
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Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

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484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
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Telephone: 508-331-3564
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